FSU room to improve: Running backs

February, 10, 2014
Feb 10
11:00
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The celebration of a BCS championship is in the rear-view mirror for Florida State, and Jimbo Fisher, Jameis Winston and Co. already have turned their attention toward adding another trophy in 2014. So as Florida State preps for spring practice, we’re digging into the biggest questions, position battles and storylines facing the defending national champs.

This week, we’ll look at the five position groups with the biggest question marks looming in advance of spring practice.

First up: Running back

Projected starter: Karlos Williams (Senior)

[+] EnlargeKarlos Williams
Jeff Gammons/Getty ImagesKarlos Williams is FSU's leading returning rusher, but there are some concerns about his durability.
The potential upside for Williams is off the charts. No player from an AQ-team with as many carries as Williams (91) rushed for more yards per attempt in 2013 as he did, and no running back with at least 50 rushes found the end zone more efficiently than Williams (once every 8.3 carries). But after FSU enjoyed both depth and experience at tailback the past two seasons, Williams does come with a few concerns. He didn’t start playing tailback until the second game of the 2013 season, and he has carried the ball just 11 times with FSU leading by seven points or less. How he’ll hold up to a full season as the featured back against first-team defenders is still an open question.

Strength in numbers: Mario Pender (RS-So.), Ryan Green (So.), Freddie Stevenson (So.), Cameron Ponder (Sr.)

Like Williams, the rest of FSU’s depth chart at tailback has little experience carrying the ball in a close game. Williams had 18 rushes in the first half of games last season. No one else on the roster had even one. But like with Williams, those numbers are more of an unanswered question than a definitive statement. Green’s elusiveness makes him a valuable weapon, but he must improve his blocking and blitz pickup before he’s a regular contributor. Pender missed each of his first two seasons (groin injury, academic issues) but he knows the system and has speed to burn. Assuming he stays eligible, he’ll have a role in FSU’s game plan.

New on the scene: Dalvin Cook, Jonathan Vickers

Cook is the big wild card in the running back mix. He’s supremely talented, rated as the third-best running back in the 2014 class by ESPN. He already has enrolled, giving him the luxury of a full spring to get acquainted with FSU’s offense. Fisher wants to distribute carries among a handful of backs, which means Cook will get his chance to play -- and play often. When the dust settles this fall, it’s certainly possible Cook emerges as Florida State’s most complete back.

What to watch: Perhaps no position group can take a bigger step forward this spring than the running backs. Williams must show he’s a more refined runner rather than simply relying on his rare combination of size and speed if he’s to inherit bell-cow status. Green still has plenty of developing to do, too, and while he’s a weapon with the ball in his hands, he’ll need to do a better job of hitting holes and picking up blitzes. Cook, of course, will be the most intriguing figure of the spring. If he makes a comfortable transition to the college level, it’s entirely possible FSU once again will have a two-headed tailback attack as good as any team in the ACC.

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